Budget Give and Take

In a surprisingly smooth and speedy process, Houston councilmembers turned in their amendments that ranged
from hiring freezes to putting additional speed bumps on city streets.

Councilmember Mike Sullivan submitted the most amendments, clocking in at 39. Councilmember Jarvis Johnson had zero amendments to offer, prompting Mayor Annise Parker to call him her "favorite."

"These were very focused on the budget and policy. Obviously, I've been here a long time and I've seen some amendments processes where councilmembers were all over the map. These were — while I don't agree with all of them — they were thoughtful and clearly all of the councilmembers understand that this is a very tight budget and we're going to have to work hard to keep it in balance."

Several significant amendments came from Councilmember Anne Clutterbuck, who chairs the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and who knows the ins and outs of the $4.2 billion budget perhaps better than anyone else at the council table. Clutterbuck's amendments include a hiring freeze for the upcoming fiscal year, the elimination of unfilled positions and other personnel-related efficiencies.

"I wouldn't have offered them if I didn't think that they were necessary. I think that they're necessary and essential if we're going to sustain through fiscal year 2012 even. We have to make sure that we make significant cuts and that we actually reduce the size of city government to meet the revenues that we have."

And those revenues are down about $6 million from the past two years. Clutterbuck says the city needs to adjust expenditures down in keeping with the loss of revenue.

"To me it's important that we bring our expenditures back in line with revenues. If our revenues in '08 were sufficient to sustain expenditures in '08 then perhaps we need to go back to '08 level expenditures."

Which means anyone who submitted budget amendments that require additional funds may have a hard time getting them passed. All of the submissions will be compared for overlap and duplication. Then council will consider the final budget during what will likely be a marathon session next Wednesday.

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